Hi, I'm Gibson Praise (just a handle, not a real name). I am way older than anyone wants to know, save for the one fact that I've been reading Darkover novels and stories since the mid-60's. I started re-reading them in the late-60's. I've never really quit reading and re-reading ... and getting confused on various aspects of the Darkovan world as created by Marion Zimmer Bradley. And trying to make all those aspects fit into a unified whole. I have never stopped trying. In fact, it can't be done but that doesn't stop me from trying. Once I have acheived the Darkovan Unified Fact Theory, I will move on to some other impossible windmill.
So this is just one person's introduction to the world of Darkover. It will not be objective. It can't be. I won't even try! It is also incomplete but hopefully it will become less incomplete as time passes.
For now, the briefest introduction I can give to Darkover is to paraphrase MZB's own words. Each Darkover novel was written such that it was complete in itself, needing no reference to any of the other books set in Darkover. If there was a choice between a better story and consistency with "facts" from other Darkover novels or stories, then consistency was the first, last and always loser.
One way to view Darkover to think of it as a state of mind (and it gels pretty well under that assumption). Another would be to view the stories as having come from a set of very close threads in a multi-verse (and that also works very well to explain inconsistencies, in fact perfectly (well ... other than those pesky inconsistencies that arise within a single story)).
There is a third tack one can take, to view each story as a historical source document. The viewer is some time much further along in the timeline looking back and trying to piece together "what really happened". It's my background as an amatuer historian that's to blame. The similarity is striking though. Things never totally agree. The more views you have on a particular event or person, the more confidence you feel that what was reported might actually bear some close resemblance to the truth. You can have several documents that relate to a brief time period alog with gaps of hundreds of years with nothing at all, perhaps a fable written down 400 years later.